Freshfield Grove

Tales of Tasmanian Adventures in Olive Oil

Australian Olive Conference write-up

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I was pretty lucky that this year the Australian Olive Association (AOA) conference was held in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales, less than a 2 hour drive from Sydney. And since we still mostly live in Sydney (boo!) instead of Tasmania, it was really easy to get to (hooray!) It was the first time I’d been, and I loved every minute. It was awesome to meet so many passionate olive growers, and reassuring that a fair number of them had leapt into the business with as little experience as we have. And now they’re producing amazing award winning Extra Virgin Olive Oils šŸ™‚

Cherry blossoms around the pool in the spring sunshine.

Cherry blossoms around the pool in the spring sunshine.

It was held at the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens in Pokolbin, which is a beautiful setting. TheĀ cherry blossoms were out in force and the clouds of pink flowers looked amazing. I’d decided to splash out and stay there, and now I want to go back just for a little holiday. It’s the only place I’ve stayed with a sunken bath! And lovely private terraces outside the rooms. And walking distance to five wineries!! Not sure how much walking I’d be doing after tastings at five wineries, but I’d give it a go… Actually I suppose you wouldn’t have to do them all in one day!

The conference was held over three days, with the first and last indoors at the conference venue, and the middle day out at Adina Vineyard and Olive Grove for workshops and practical demonstrations. The organisers had hiredĀ an external facilitator (Ian Plowman) and he did a great job of making the sessions interactive and keeping to time. There were a few puzzled murmurs at the start when he offered guidelines for sessions, but it all worked really well. (There were a few fun props too- do you see the fuzzy rubber ball, the timer, and the pipe cleaners on the table in the photo below?) We sat at tables instead of in rows, and had time for table discussions before questions being opened up to the floor again. Everyone moved seatsĀ at the change of every session, and thisĀ was a brilliantĀ way to meet other delegates. Especially for me, with sooo many people I didn’t know.

Dr Joanna McMillan, Keynote Speaker, Australian Olive Association Conference 2014.

Dr Joanna McMillan, Keynote Speaker, Australian Olive Association Conference 2014.

Dr Joanna McMillan was the keynote speaker and she spoke about Olive Oil and Health. She’s a passionate advocate forĀ the role that EVOO can play in a healthy diet. (DidĀ any of you seeĀ the advert that she did with the AOA to promote fresh Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil at the start of the year? I’ve added it below.) It was great to hear her discussing variousĀ researchĀ studies providing evidence for the health benefits of EVOO, which cross so many different diseases. It’sĀ been shown to have a positive benefit in cardiovascular disease, play a protective role in some cancers (specifically colon and breast), and also reduces symptoms in some inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t think anyĀ other fats have so much positive research to support their inclusion in our diet. Take home message for me – Eat (even) More Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

Talking of food, the first night was the AOA Gala Awards Dinner. The awards were presented in sections between courses, so we didn’t get hungry and restless! I’d happily have eaten anything on this menu, but I was pretty happy with the way the food was dropped (tuna, steak, chocolate). I found the alternate serve thing a bit odd the first time I came across it but it seems common in Australia, and I’m getting used to it. The Best Oil in Show went to Red Island, and Tasmanian awards included Cradle Coast Olives (Best in Class – Ultra Boutique), and Ashbolt Farm (Top State – Tasmania). If you’d like to see a full list of the awards, then the results booklet can be downloaded from the AOA website here.

Day two was out in the fresh air, at Adina Vineyard and Olive Grove. The heavy rains we’ve had recently in NSW had thankfully stopped, and it was a glorious day, although still pretty chilly when the sun set. Adina are one of the Hunter Valley olive producers, and do a lot of contract pressing with theirĀ 2 ton per hour press (compare that to our puny 80kg/hr!) They were fabulous hosts, and organisedĀ a delicious BBQ lunch, with some of their EVOO and wine. What could be better? Several manufacturers had brought equipment to demonstrate, and although we’ve really got everything we need at the moment there’s lots of cool stuff I want! Various gizmos to make life in the grove easier, particularly at pruning and harvesting time. I got some great tips on pruning from some other growers, and tried out some lovely, light Felco loppers (I’ve got weedy arms!) We had very practical presentations on table olive production and pressing olives for extra virgin olive oil. So many things for me to put into practice… We got a tour of Adina’sĀ amazing press too. And in the evening The Olive Centre put on another BBQ and a glow in the dark spraying demonstration! (My iphone camera wasn’t really up to the job for this bit!)

This is a long post for me – I’m getting tired! If you’re still with me, then I’ll keep day three brief. We had talks and discussions on healthy trees, healthy soils, and keeping pests and diseases at bay. Then a very fun exercise in blending EVOO. This was run by Richard Gawal, a very experienced Australian EVOO judge, taster, and blender. We had samples A, B, and C, and had to work out what proportion of each was in the test blend “T”. Ā My table got pretty close on our first attempt, but then further efforts sadly took us further away from the correct percentages, so we didn’t win the bottle of wine on offer šŸ˜¦

The lastĀ sessions were a fascinating presentation on the world of pickled vegetable sales (I know that sounds unlikely, but trust me!) by Mimmo LubranoĀ from Sandhurst Fine FoodsĀ , then the AOA AGM, and finally a discussion of healthy industry associations and leadership. I was sad to leave and drive back to Sydney, not least because I never got a chance to try out that sunken bath!

Author: FarmerFi

I'm a British doctor who married an Aussie, moved to Tasmania, and bought an olive grove. Now making extra virgin olive oil and olive leaf tea. I'd love you to join my adventures in the beautiful setting of Southern Tasmania.

24 thoughts on “Australian Olive Conference write-up

  1. Ripper, Fi – you little beauty ! Loved it all ! Now thinking of taking up olive production so as to be able to get to conferences like this. Any hints? [grin]
    Back to the slog, my girl – you know what you have to do ! šŸ™‚

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  2. I’ve tried every link in the post, and every one works for me …

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  3. I love the olive colours and clean lines of your theme. The post was at the right length because you interspersed them with images which is always good to give the eye rest. The subject– an olive growers conference won’t be that interesting to ordinary readers unless you add interesting/amazing/little known facts about olive/olive products that they could relate to. Make it newsy. How much did the industry earn last year. How many farmers are doing this? Break down the demographics. Women farmers vs male farmers. I see see you attempted to do some of that with the little part about health benefits of EVOO. If you can find more surprise facts, you can put them in quotes between or at the beginning of the post. Add a poll or a True/False question at the end there to determine how many of your readers purchase olive oil brands from your region or have them guess the answer for a fact that was mentioned in your post. Hope I’m not throwing too much at yah, just some ideas on how you could jazz up the topic. I would use more images of the products and people there than the decor of the hotel. Show things in action so we too can benefit vicariously from the conference through you. Overall, a fair read.

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  4. Wow I’m an olive oil lover and this conference looked so interesting! Thanks for sharing the info, especially the great pics!

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  5. One day would love to try your olive oil if it can be exported to the US. What a fun conference that must have been, the pools look lovely, nice resort.

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    • The pools did look fab, just a bit on the chilly side at the moment – but another good reason to go back! We’ve got friends who travel to the US so might be able to arrange some small scale “exports” at some point!

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  6. Sounds like a fun conference! I knew EVOO is good for you but I didn’t realize just how good (helps protect against certain cancers for example). I acquired two jugs of EVOO from a local producer in Napa (my boss was up there and picked it up for me–she was horrified when she found out that I “of all people” wasn’t always eating local EVOO). I promise to use it all up. Oh speaking of which, I know you were asking readers about packaging a while ago. This olive oil comes in a jug. It’s about 2 litres. Would that work? You probably decided long ago how to bottle yours, but just thought I would mention it.

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    • It was sooo much fun šŸ™‚ I bet your Napa oil is yummy! We’re going with the 375ml bottles for ours – largely because we decided to go with the Australian made option. I think bigger containers are more economical, but there’s more risk of it not being used up quickly if people don’t use a lot of it.

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  7. I knew how good EVOO is, but it is so interesting to read about the production, and what the growers are up to. Sounds like a very worthwhile conference. Wish we could grow olives here.

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    • It was so fascinating to talk to all the different growers and processors, Hilda. It was a great three days – I’m already looking forward to next year! Are your Canadian winters too cold for olive growing?

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  8. Fascinating stuff! We have three kalamata trees in our backyard and have had such fun harvesting and pickling them – I can totally understand your passion. šŸ™‚

    Where do you stand on cooking with olive oil? I cook with it all the time (not EVOO so much though) but have read quite conflicting stuff about whether or not that’s a good idea. Would love to hear an actual expert’s view.

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    • Thanks for reading šŸ™‚ I’d love to know how you pickle your olives? Because we’re concentrating on the oil side we haven’t had a lot of time to devote to it. We’re only doing a few as an experiment for ourselves, but there are so many different recipes out there, and our results have been a bit mixed! Have got on MUCH better since we started acidifying the water at the start of brining though.

      As for cooking, I use EVOO for pretty much everything. Since I started my olive oil journey I’ve become more and more reluctant to use any refined oils. Some people find the flavour of EVOO too much, but a delicate style EVOO is very versatile. There is lots of conflicting info about smoke points, and in fact this was discussed at the conference. A good quality fresh EVOO with a low free fatty acid level will have a smoke point of 180 to 210degC, so is absolutely fine for all cooking including frying.

      And it’s absolutely lovely to be called an expert, but I think perhaps enthusiast is more accurate at this stage šŸ˜‰

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      • I’ve mostly just soaked them in salty water, refreshing it every night for a while before finally popping them in a jar once all the bitterness is gone. I find you then have to sit the jars in the cupboard for at least a few months (the longer the better – I forgot about one of the jars and opened it after about two years and they were DIVINE) and then rinse and replace the brine once you open them. I like to add some chopped garlic and fresh rosemary too at that point.

        I also tried just packing them dry with A BUNCH of rock salt and putting them away like that for a year. They ended up with liquid pooled at the bottom, so the top olives were dried and shrivelled while the bottom ones were kind of puckered and moist. I thought I’d ruined them, but once I rinsed them off and re-packed them in brine for another month or so they all plumped up and were utterly delicious – really strong flavour.

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      • Thanks for this. I think maybe we’ve been trying them too early! A lot of the recipes say they’re ok after one month. Never tried the rock salt method, but I might give that a go too.

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  9. what an awesome post! i to think the conference was amazing, the location, speakers and award dinner were all very nice and lets not forget all the exhibitors that brought along all their fantastic products.

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